Racial Equity - Funders for LGBTQ Issues
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An LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islander movement

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance has formed to address issues facing their diverse communities and support local groups nationwide. Co-Directors Benjamin De Guzman, Glenn Magpantay and Mala Nagarajan discuss immigration reform, a recent directory of organizations and their role in broader LGBTQ and APPI communities.

What is the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)? How did it come about?

NQAPIA, initially a network of leaders from 35 organizations, is an extension of the leadership body convened at the 2005 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change roundtable meeting to build a sustainable LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islander (API) movement. This included (1) forming a foundation and connection for long-term working relationships, (2) identifying LGBTQ API organizational challenges, (3) facilitating the sharing experiences and best practices, and (4) exploring the possibility of collaboration (e.g., specific projects and programs, a national LGBTQ API organization, etc.).

Participants at the roundtable meeting identified six key areas of work, formed steering committees to develop proposals, and formed a Working Group Committee (WGC) to act as an overall steering committee to move the work forward.

NQAPIA is the only pan-Asian, multi-gender national LGBTQ API group right now, but our work is to support the organizations that involved in the original convening and who have joined us along the way. As NQAPIA moves to formalize its structures and programs, it seeks to do so according to the interests and capacities of these groups.

What is its mission and vision for the community?

The purpose of the Alliance is to connect LGBTQ API organizations with each other for collaboration and collective identification on issues of common concern; to build a strong foundation for collaboration and interaction with other communities; to facilitate the work of collaborative projects that strengthen the LGBTQ API community; and to support, nurture, and develop existing and emerging LGBTQ API leaders.

The goals of NQAPIA are: to identify LGBTQ API organizations and develop mechanisms for those organizations to connect; to explore and support collaborative relationships and build a collaborative framework from which organizations can work; and to identify collaborative projects and consider any new proposals.

This toolkit is exploring how funders can better promote racial equity in this country among LGBTQ communities. Through your work at NQAPIA or through other experiences, how have you seen racial, economic and gender inequities affect LGBTQ AAPI communities?

LGBTQ AAPIs experience a unique web of interactions between racial, economic and gender inequities. Their position at the intersections between categories of race, gender, sexuality and class disrupts the conventional wisdom of how issues affect these communities.

We see this in the marriage equality debate. The loss of California's Proposition 8, the ban of same-sex marriage, shows how when we don't invest in communities of color, the LGBT community loses. Mainstream exit polls initially showed that Asian Americans, like whites, voted against the anti-gay ban.

But looking closer, multilingual exit polls had different findings. Young, educated, US-born Asian Americans voted against Prop. 8, but older, foreign-born, and voters with limited English proficiency, clearly supported Prop. 8. The problem is clear, we have not done the basic LGBT education work in communities of color where they really are in terms of language and culture, and that needs to change.

LGBT AAPI organizations across the country are engaged in multilingual outreach campaign to increase the visibility of LGBT AAPIs. Our message is simple, "We are gay, Asian, and proud!" But we say it in Korean, Bangla, Punjabi, and Khmer.

Are there specific public policies that NQAPIA is seeking to reform or enact that would benefit LGBTQ AAPI communities?

Generally speaking, NQAPIA has supported policy positions that provide progressive change for LGBTQ AAPIs and their families. We inject a racial analysis to policy discussions on LGBTQ issues that recognizes the impact of these issues on communities of color. At the same time, our work ensures that movements in support of racial justice for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders also fully include those of us who are LGBTQ and our families.

One example of this is comprehensive immigration reform. There are almost 12 million Asian Americans, South Asians, and Pacific Islanders in the United States; 69 percent of them are immigrants. Further, countless AAPI immigrants are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

NQAPIA is launching a campaign that urges for immigration reform that: (1) strengthens all families by promoting family reunification, reducing visa backlogs, and recognizing bi-national same-sex couples; (2) protects workers with labor protections and expands professional worker visas; (3) preserves civil rights, especially for Muslims, South Asians and Southeast Asians, and ensures constitutional due process; and (4) shows compassion and allows the undocumented to legalize, supports undocumented young people to go to college, and eases the application for political asylum.

In July 2009, you released a first-ever directory of LGBTQ AAPI groups in the U.S. What are some of the main lessons from this directory?

The directory found that LGBTQ AAPI organizations across the United States are working hard to provide safe and supportive spaces for LGBTQ AAPIs. They provide an array of social, support, political, and educational activities. They reach out to educate their members and the broader community. They speak out in support of the community. They challenge racism in the gay community and homophobia in Asian American/ Pacific Islander communities.

Some exhibit the hallmarks of well established organizations—they have been around for 20 years, are incorporated, and have hired professional staff. Others are just starting out. Some have launched visibility campaigns, multilingual initiatives, and provided safe spaces for the most vulnerable and forgotten sectors of the community, such as young people, people of transgender experience and women. Some are heavily involved in efforts for the right to marry, and others are seeking rights for immigrants. What comes through time and time again, however, is the ability of these organizations to do much with little. They are driven by leadership that has a passion to serve a unique sector of society that lies at the intersection between two larger communities that often do not know what to make of LGBTQ AAPIs.

The directory makes numerous references to the profound diversity of populations who trace their origins to Asia and the Pacific Islands (e.g. Chinese, Laotians, Bangladeshis, LGBTQ people and many more).

What happens when policies and programs disregard the heterogeneous populations that comprise "AAPI communities?"

Historically, AAPI communities have not received attention in mainstream American discourse. This is compounded by the fact that statistical analyses of our communities, when they do happen, often fail to disaggregate data to capture more specific information about particular ethnic groups. For example, by masking differences, statistics that present financial affluence of AAPIs relative to other groups fail to reflect the reality that certain groups, such as Southeast Asians who came to the U.S. as refugees, and indigenous Pacific Islanders whose weaker political status relative to the U.S. government, have much higher rates of poverty. By propagating this "model minority myth," our lack of understanding of the distinctions among our groups makes it harder to make the case for the real needs of our communities.

You recently attended a White House meeting for LGBTQ communities. What's the relationship you hope to establish with federal decision-making bodies?

NQAPIA took part in a meeting with the leading national organizations serving LGBTQ communities and the Presidential Transition Team. We were also invited to attend a meeting at the White House with national leaders from the LGBTQ community.

Although NQAPIA's role as a federation of locally-based AAPI LGBTQ organizations focuses on their particular needs and concerns, we recognize the opportunities we have to participate in national conversations that happen among decision-makers at the federal level. These conversations are often compartmentalized along more conventional lines of identity politics, and while we work to disrupt these categories, at the same time, we engage them to make sure that the voices of the AAPI LGBTQ organizations and communities with whom we work are heard at the tables at which policies affecting them are made.

In August 2009, NQAPIA held a national convening of LGBTQ AAPI groups and individuals in Seattle, Washington. What are LGBTQ AAPI communities taking away from this conference?

Approximately 200 people from around the country and Canada attended "Transgress, Transform, Transcend: A National Conference of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Asian Americans, South Asians and Pacific Islanders." NQAPIA was pleased to be able to help create this intentional space that focused on LGBTQ AAPIs and allowed us to explore our particular concerns, issues, needs, desires, and aspirations.

At this historic event, strategy sessions provided groups such as Southeast Asians and the Asian Pacific Islander Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Network with the opportunity to have targeted discussions and identify specific activities to move their respective work forward. Conference participants engaged in workshops and panels that covered a wide range of issues and also held caucus sessions that focused on particular interests and affinities such as gender, ethnicity, geographic region and others.

What are some successes—in our society, in our political movements, in the media—that you'd like to see in your lifetime?

This is a tantalizingly broad question for idealists like us! Tempering idealism through a more pragmatic lens, there are some successes that we would like to see in my lifetime. We are hopeful for movement in some of the issue priorities that we have particularly worked on with AAPI LGBTQ communities. Whether it is securing marriage equality, or fixing our immigration system, we do hope that there will be significant movement in dismantling discrimination based on sexuality, gender identity, race/ ethnicity. Underlying this, we hope that there will be a time when the default understanding of what constitutes "an American" is that there is no default.

Finally, what advice would you give to a grantmaker who's interested in exploring funding to LGBTQ communities of color?

We would strongly encourage funders to make sure that "LGBTQ communities of color" is a category that they seek to expand beyond its current parameters. The strategies that our community-based organizations need to employ to improve their ability to serve our communities, such as coalition building, outreach to allies, and reciprocal solidarity work, will hold funders in good stead as well. To think beyond the scope of their own current relationships and networks will help open up new opportunities to build assets as well as identify new partners to fund in support of common goals.

Benjamin De Guzman, Glenn Magpantay & Mala Nagarajan, Co-Directors, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) (Washington, DC)

Ben de Guzman is the Co-Director, Programs for the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. For over a dozen years, he has worked on issues of concern in Asian American/ Pacific Islander and LGBT communities including: civil rights, leadership development, youth activism and political/civic engagement.

Glenn D. Magpantay, Esq. is co-director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), a new national federation of Asian American South Asian, and Pacific Islander lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organizations. He brings to this work years of working with local LGBT API groups, including being co-chair of the Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York. He was named as one of Instinct Magazine’s “25 Leading Men of 2004,” in the magazine’s Nov. 2004 power issue. Professionally, Glenn is a Staff Attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund where he practices voting rights law.

Mala Nagarajan is a 2008-09 Task Force LGBT Policy Fellow and a Co-Director of Creative Collaborations, a nonprofit that provides administrative and operations support to LGBTQ people or color organizations, as well as other under-served and under-represented communities. She and her partner, Vega Subramaniam, were a plaintiff couple in the Washington State 2004 marriage equality lawsuit and founded Trikone Northwest.

NQAPIA